Assyriologists have translated a rare 3,500-year-old cuneiform tablet that asks a series of riddles about daily life and politics in ancient Mesopotamia. Working from a hand-written copy of the inscription made several decades ago (the original tablet is now lost), two cuneiform experts, Nathan Wasserman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Michael Streck of the Altorientalisches Institut at Universität Leipzig, painstakingly translated the fragmented and often puzzling ancient riddles that give an honest, humorous and sometimes grim assessment of Babylonian society. The riddles comment on everything from the despotic rule of local governors to the ubiquitous presence of beer in daily life. Other riddles rely on metaphor to make their point, for example:
The tower is high;
It is high, but nonetheless has no shade. What is it?
The answer is sunlight. “You have to think about the riddle like the ‘Lord of the Rings’; it is metaphor,” Wasserman said. “Imagine you are outside and see a beam of light going from sky to earth. It looks like a tower, but it gives no shade, of course, because it’s light itself.”